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Smart Grid Planning Incomplete Until Shale Boom Fully Understood

As the natural gas landscape continues to be transformed by booming shale production and renewables emerge on a parallel path, gas industry stakeholders are increasingly focused on the concept of a "smarter," more flexible gas delivery system along the lines of the electric industry smart grid. Eventually the two need to coalesce, according to a Gas Technology Institute (GTI) technical expert focused on the subject.

The prospect of long-term supplies at relatively stable prices is a game-changer, according to Jim Marean, a senior program manager in GTI's intelligent infrastructure initiative. At the Illinois-based institute, Marean is leading efforts to "assess and articulate" the role and value of natural gas as part of the smart energy grid.

That assessment cannot be complete without understanding the current shale gas boom, he told NGI's Shale Daily.

"The instability of pricing was one of the key issues for a long time with natural gas," Marean said. "The question was, is it going to be around, and what's the price? And the price was quite volatile."

Now, with abundant domestic supplies and more stable prices, Marean said there should be a shift to even more gas-fired electric generation. And with the influx of more renewable-based power, there will be "a greater level of dependency on natural gas" to provide the rapid ramp-up rate needed for generation to buffer renewables' intermittency.

"Those are two of the reasons why it is going to be important to increase the coordination of supply and demand between the [electric and gas] grids," he said. And the other consideration, Marean said, is the ability of highly populated load centers, such as the Northeast, to suddenly be in close proximity to large gas supplies after historically having to depend on sources thousands of miles away either from the Gulf or Canada.

"The flow of gas is going to shift substantially, and it already is shifting," Marean said. "That means the need to coordinate on what goes where and when becomes that much more critical, along with the need for additional pipelines to get it there. All of this says we have to have better communications."

For Marean, who had 30 years of experience in the utility electric and gas power sectors before joining GTI, it all comes down to two key factors essential to a smart energy future -- more advanced communications devices need to be strategically located in the field, and they all need to have two-way communications capability.

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